June 28, 2020
Silent Cal's Silent Memoirs
Calvin Coolidge had the good fortune to occupy the White House at a time of national peace and prosperity, inheriting the job on the death of Warren Harding in 1923, and resigning of his own accord, in advance of the Wall Street crash of 1929. The events of his two terms are not much remembered, and neither is he. His memoirs could be of interest only to someone trying to investigate the astonishing corruption of Harding’s cabinet (in which he sat, as Vice-President), and wondering what he might have to say about it. The answer is that he says precisely nothing.
That, at least, is in character, for ‘Silent Cal’ would become a running joke as president. Supposedly a woman seated beside him at dinner said “Someone’s just bet me I won’t get more than two words out of you”, to which he replied “You lost.” If that wasn’t true, then it should have been, and his taciturnity extends into this little volume, perhaps the only presidential memoirs that a man can comfortably lift.
But don’t look for any miracles of distillation here. The first and better half simply describes a frugal upbringing in small-town Vermont and a good education at Amherst College. The second half, covering the White House years, is disappointingly unrevealing, mostly dry little lectures about how to delegate responsibility.
Entirely absent, for example, is anything about his lively and popular First Lady, except a single sentence, sounding like something on a gravestone. Actually it was Harding’s First Lady I was hoping to hear more about - so dominant in her husband’s career, even helping to select his cabinet, that she must have known more about the scandals than she ever let on.